Three elements combine to create a tropical garden; tall stately palms, dramatic large leaves and bright colours. Such a look is perfect for poolside planting, around ponds and city ‘jungles’.
Beginning your tropical landscape with palm trees we recommend tall, feather-leaved palms to provide the canopy. Suitable species include King Palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae), Kentias (Howea forsteriana), Majesty Palms (Ravenea rivularis), Juçara Palms (Euterpe edulis) and the clustering Senegal Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata).
For a truly tropical looking alternative consider the fast growing Himalayan Fishtail Palm (Caryota maxima) or – if space permits – the Giant Fishtail Palm, Caryota gigas. Note that King Palms, Majesty Palms and Juçara Palms all look great planted in clumps of three or five.
Once the canopy palms are dealt with consider the medium sized palms that will sit at around eye-level. Most desirable is the Sugarcane Palm, Dypsis baronii, a relatively hardy alternative to the more tropical Golden Cane Palm. Visitors to the tropics will wonder at the range of lush, clustering palms. For the New Zealand the Chamaedorea genus is perfect for fulfilling this role. With both solitary and clustering species that tolerate chills no tropical garden is complete without a large number of different Chamaedorea palms. Best amongst these are the clustering Bamboo Palm, Chamaedorea microspadix and the brilliant Cascade Palm, Chamaedorea cataractarum.
Consider also a range of mid-sized cycads perfect for tropical gardens including different species of Cycas as well as the rather large and impressive Lepidozamia peroffskyana.
There are a number of attractive tropical trees but perhaps the most exotic looking are the Brazilian Fern Tree, Schizolobium parahyba, and the Forest Fever Tree, Anthocleista grandiflora, with banana-like leaves to one metre.
For their flowers as much as their scent plant a range of different Brugmansia bushes. You may also like to consider Vireya Rhododendrons for their bright, tropical flowers. Hibiscus too should not be overlooked for their bright flowers
Turning to the large leafed subtropical and tropical plants so characteristic of tropical gardens, one should consider ornamental bananas such as Musa or Ensete in a sheltered spot. If kept out of the wind these plants can produce massive, undivided leaves to rival anything else in the garden.
On a smaller scale cannas and gingers will add tropical colour to your garden. Other large-leaved plants include the heart-shaped Colocasias and Alocasias some growing to quite gigantic proportions.
More subtle touches may be added by ferns (the Bird’s Nest fern, Asplenium nidus, is particularly tropical looking), fiery impatiens and colourful bromeliads.